Professor Jennifer Fay

Join the Humanities Studio for a screening of the film Steamboat Bill Jr., followed by a talk titled “Virtuosic Failure & Environmental Design: Buster Keaton” by Jennifer Fay, associate professor of film and English at Vanderbilt University.

Fay, an expert on trans-Atlantic film and media theory, environmental criticism and political theory, will discuss how slapstick cinema tickles the funny bone when characters fail. They fail to see the banana peel, to regain balance, to perceive the danger all around them, or once they see the threats, to respond appropriately. 

Keaton, best known as an actor and comedian in silent films, scales up the arts of slapstick failure from the discrete encounter with a banana peel to weather systems and even rapid climate change itself. In Keaton’s environmental comedy, simulated weather is a force and source of laughter.

In films like Steamboat Bill Jr., we apprehend malevolent weather not as natural act of God or Mother Nature, but as a matter of design. Keaton’s characters survive, but only by accident. This talk considers Keaton’s “climatography” as a fable for our contemporary environmental crisis. Keaton provides the improbable scenario through which we humans haplessly triumph over climates of our own making.

There will be a live DJ set by Paul D. Miller, a.k.a. DJ Spooky.

At Vanderbilt University, Fay directs the program in cinema and media arts. She is author of “Theaters of Occupation: Hollywood and the Reeducation of Postwar Germany” and co-author of “Film Noir: Hard-Boiled Modernity and the Cultures of Globalization.” Her most recent book, “Inhospitable World: Cinema in the Time of the Anthropocene,” was published by Oxford University Press in March 2018.

This event is sponsored by the Departments of English and German, the Russian Program and The Humanities Studio, which launched in September 2018. The theme for the Studio’s inaugural year is “Fail Better,” in honor of late Pomona College Professor of English Arden Reed. 

Event Contact

Thursday, October 11, 2018
4:30 pm to 9:00 pm

4:30 p.m. film screening, 7 p.m. lecture

  • Pomona College
  • Edmunds Ballroom, Smith Campus Center
  • 170 E. Sixth Street
General Public
Pomona Alumni
Pomona Faculty and Staff
Pomona Families
Pomona Students
Claremont Colleges Community

Free and open to the public